By J D Hansard e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The first time I had guard duty at Ft. Chaffee was a learning experience. I reported to a barracks some distance from that of our company. I was assigned a bunk and my rotation began. The assignment consisted of walking a post for two hours followed by two hours of rest and then more walking and resting. My task was to "guard" a portion of the motor pool. I was issued a carbine rifle and told to walk around the two block area. I don’t remember what I was to do if trouble arose.
I learned a lesson about walking. At the time I believed that the energy required to walk was unrelated to the speed at which you walked. I thought walking fast, as I always did, was the way to go. I walked six or seven miles around my assigned area those first two hours. For my second time on duty I slowed considerably. I was getting tired and I was learning my lesson. I don’t recall how many walking tours I had, but by the last one I was exhausted. On that final assignment this is how I "walked." I would stand still and lean forward very slightly. As I became unbalanced I would move one foot forward to avoid falling. Then I would again stand still, tilt forward, etc. I believe I completed one circuit around my assigned route – less than half a mile. Lesson: walking slowly takes less energy.
In 1956 we were an ambulance company but later we were reassigned. We became a service battery for an artillery battalion armed with 8 inch Howitzers. (We hauled munitions, maintained the motor pool, kept battalion records, etc.) My usual assignment at summer camp was to work at battalion headquarters as a low level clerk. My boss was a charming gentleman whose name I have forgotten. I regret that. (His name might have been McNeil.) He was great to work for and a marvelous storyteller. He had been in our battalion through World War II and Korea. I remember two of his anecdotes from World War II.
Near the end of the war, the German army was retreating rapidly and our battalion was advancing after them. Our battery entered a German town, and my boss looked up and saw American soldiers throwing furniture out of windows. He stormed into the building, took out his sidearm, and threatened to shoot anyone else he saw vandalizing. He couldn’t tolerate needless destruction of property, even German property.
The other incident occurred when our battery advanced and took up a position at a recently abandoned German air field. The service battery’s only weapon, not including rifles, was a 50 caliber machine gun. Shortly after they arrived at the air field a plane suddenly flew very low overhead. It was a German aircraft but our machine gun was not yet set up. They hurriedly put the machine gun in position at the end of a runway and were alert. A plane appeared over the tree tops and they began firing. They shot it down. They realized too late that it was a P-38, one of ours.
My boss also vividly remembered the bitter cold in Korea. They lived in tents when the temperature remained below zero for long periods of time. He said that in spite of the miserable conditions he never caught a cold. Never, that is, until they were sent to Japan for a rest period. There, in comfortable surroundings, he got a miserable bad cold.
During one of our summer encampments at Ft. Chaffee my boss showed some of us, by demonstration, how to take a bath using one canteen of water, one wash cloth, a bar of soap, a rock to stand on, and his steel pot. What is a "steel pot?" When you see pictures of World War II soldiers marching in a parade wearing helmets, they are probably wearing helmet liners. A helmet liner is lightweight, made of plastic, with webbing inside that fits the soldier’s head. It’s comfortable. A steel pot, an actual helmet, is made of steel, is heavy and fits over the liner. The steel pot is uncomfortable and soldiers don’t wear them unless they are ordered to do so or are being shot at. My boss demonstrated that they serve nicely as a sink for bath water.
He set his canteen in the sun to warm the water. He selected a wide flat rock – they were abundant in the Camp area. Then he took off all of his clothes and stood on that rock. I was a little shocked to see him standing nude. He was a very old man as I saw things then. He was probably 45 years old. He poured the warm water into the steel pot, wet his wash cloth, and used it to moisten his entire body. Then he soaped up the wash cloth, being careful not to allow any soap into the steel pot. He scrubbed himself head to foot and then he squeezed every drop of water out of that wash cloth. He moistened the cloth and ran it over his body and again squeezed out all of the water. He repeated the rinse cycle two or three time. By the end he was clean and practically dry.
I never saw anyone else use his bathing method. We remained bivouacked for a little less than a week and I and my buddies didn’t mind being dirty and smelly for that period of time.
I wish I knew my boss’s name. He lived in Paris and commuted to Ft. Smith where he had a full time job with the National Guard. Late in his life I heard he had cancer and underwent leg amputations. He was special.
If you remember his name I’d appreciate it if you e-mailed it to me.